Currently an Australian Royal Commission on Sex abuse of children is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.
The following is an extract from exchange between Justice McClellan, Chief Commissioner and retired Bishop of Parramatta, Bede Heather, last Wednesday (21/09/16) afternoon.
Q. You see, what you’re telling me now has been said to us by a number of senior and not so senior members of the church, you understand?
Q. What I think we’re getting to is that you only thought in a space which involved the relationship between the priest and God but didn’t see the priest’s action in terms of the civil law. Is that what it amounts to?
A. Largely I would agree, yes, that I had no formation in the civil law and didn’t assess the actions of the clergy or, indeed, of others mainly in relation to the civil law or at all in relation to the civil law. I didn’t see that as my role.
Q. Why is it a matter of formation? You were brought up as a normal child in Australian society and went to school. These sorts of things, at least in my generation, were known long before I left school as things that the civil law said shouldn’t happen.
A. Yes, well, I think you were fortunate, your Honour, to have a formation of that sort. I didn’t have such a clear perception of where the civil law and moral responsibility intersected.
Q. You’ll forgive me for saying, Bishop, that what that means is you, in your intellectual framework, left out an understanding of civil society. Do you understand?
A. I understand what you’re saying, yes, and —
Q. How did the church end up in a space where it could only see these matters in moral terms and not understand the responsibility of adults in civil society?
A. Yes, it’s a good question, and I think someone may be more competent to answer that than I am. The whole development of moral theology in the history of the church and the type of moral theology that we studied in our preparation for the priesthood – I remember very little reference at all to civil law in the course of those studies.
Q. What age were you when you first started your studies in the seminary?
A. I went to the junior seminary when I was 13 years of age.
Q. So should we understand that from then on, your intellectual framework was confined by the teachings of the church?
A. Yes, and my studies in moral theology as in other areas of theology were through manuals of Catholic theologians, yes.
Q.And you didn’t develop then an understanding of civil society as you matured as a teenager and into adulthood?
A. No, no, and I see this as one of the great issues that has now arisen through the work of the Commission. As I say, this intersection between the moral demands of the gospel as we understood them then and the demands of civil society as now understood.
Q. You do you understand that for Australian society, the church having played and continuing to play such a large role in the moral and ethical understanding of many people, that the failure for the teachings of the church to bring to you, as leaders of the church, an understanding of civil society is a very serious issue?
A. Yes, I do, yes. Yes.
(pp 21086/21087 of the transcript)